The trouble with Double Trouble | By Paul Simpson

By: Paul Simpson
Source: Elvis Australia
June 3, 2011

Double Trouble is a very easy movie to hate. For most fans, the sight of Elvis singing Old MacDonald on the back of a truck is reason enough to ignore this film.

And then there are the Wiere Brothers, an allegedly comic trio whose moronic slapstick is obviously inspired by - if that's not being too kind - The Pink Panther films. The wonder is that Elvis, such a fan of Peter Sellers he often broke into Inspector Clouseau impressions, didn't karate chop all three of them. And the screenplay contains the usual absurdities - the oldest well in Antwerp turns out to have corrugated steel sides!

Yet for all that, Double Trouble is one Elvis movie for which I have a strong, inexplicable affection - a regard I wonder if the star himself shared, judging from his fluid, charming performance and his valiant efforts to make some of the songs work on a Radio Recorders soundstage that had, Ernst Jorgensen said', all the presence of a giant tin can'. True, he quit Old MacDonald after seven takes but can you blame him?

Double Trouble is an oddity. The movie's tone veers from slapstick to music and menace and the transitions aren't always deftly managed. Jo Heims' script (from a story by English suspense writer Marc Brandel) handles the drama better than the comedy. The working title was 'You're Killing Me!' and some have suggested the aim was to recreate the zany antics of the Beatles movie Help! Yet after many viewings', Double Trouble' feels more like a movie that started life as a darker, more suspenseful story over which, for the usual reasons, 17 minutes worth of songs, some slapstick (intended to match the comedic spirit of the Beatles/Sellers) and a talking parrot were overlaid. Elvis movies were often laden with innuendo but the fact that the mysterious Jill (Annette Day) is only 17 when Presley, as nightclub singer Guy Lambert, starts wooing her, means that some wisecracks are a little closer to the bone than usual. When Jill's age is disclosed, Elvis remarks: 'Seventeen will get me twenty'.

Elvis Presley and costar, Annette Day
Elvis Presley and costar, Annette Day

Heims wrote the Clint Eastwood movie Breezy (1973) in which a 17-year-old free spirit falls in love with burnt out older man William Holden so pushing the May/September romance cliché to the edge of legality may have been a favourite theme. In 'Double Trouble', Day's youth is made shockingly vivid when she appears in her school uniform. There's a strange autobiographical undertone here: Elvis first met Priscilla (who became Mrs Presley less than a month after this film was released) when she was 14. And there is yet another mysterious allusion to Elvis' stillborn twin Jesse Garon when the King bumps into identical twin girls in a London nightclub.

Jill's fortune has been secretly depleted by Uncle Gerald (John Williams) who decides she must die for his sins. His murderous ambition sparks some memorable scenes - the masked mayhem in Antwerp is genuinely menacing, concluding with a turn by Michael Murphy as the hired hitman that recalls, but doesn't quite match, the feline malice of Roddy McDowell. Similarly, Yvonne Romain adds intrigue but isn't seductive or sinister enough to convince as a femme fatale and her pursuit of Elvis is so languid it undermines the title which presumably alludes to the star's 'trouble' in being pursued by two women. Discovered in a London antique dealers, Day - in her first and last Hollywood film - is a convincing, if irritating, Jill. Perhaps because of her inexperience, her fear is almost palpable as the plot gathers momentum.

Double Trouble - MGM 1967
Double Trouble - MGM 1967

Heims' screenplay further complicates matters with a pointless sub-plot about a diamond (an obvious steal from Help! in which a valuable ring is sent to Ringo, and the Pink Panther diamond in the Sellers comedies) hidden in Jill's luggage as she follows Elvis across northern Europe. The diamond is the excuse for some so-so slapstick by Chips Rafferty, a poor man's Terry-Thomas and Norman Rossington, hitherto best known for his performance in 'A Hard Day's Night'. The movie's intriguing Fab Four allusions don't stop with the diamond and Rossington. 'The G-Men', Elvis' backing band, have Beatles mop tops. Jill's age invokes the Beatles song I Saw Her Standing There with its line 'She was just seventeen, you know what I mean', a lyric Elvis would later quote laughingly and sing in his dressing room at Vegas.

And the producers' decision to make Elvis fake a tour Europe, to cash in on a fashion for European discotheques, bizarrely sets this all-American icon in a milieu which fits his rivals more snugly than it suits him.

The whole movie seems, at times, like a promo for mod fashion but Elvis sometimes looks like a waiter in his short-jacket.

The King might well have recognised some of the allusions. He was certainly familiar with the Beatles' movies. When rock journalist Ray Connolly met him in Vegas, he mentioned Mal Evans, one of the Beatles' assistants, and Elvis replied: 'Yeah, he's the guy in Help that kept swimming'.

The best of the songs in 'Double Trouble' are good. The cool, if slightly ersatz, sophisticated nightclub jazz of City By Night, the simple beauty of Could I Fall In Love (much more compelling as an undubbed master on the Follow That Dream release) and the vigour of Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) work better than most soundtrack numbers of the 1960s. The title song is a disappointment especially as Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote it, I Love Only One Girl works in the context of the film and There's So Much World To See has a certain swing. But Baby If You'll Give Me All Your Love is sitcom rock and Old MacDonald is unspeakable. It's a mark of how badly Elvis' management lost the plot that this was released at all - let alone rereleased on the budget album Elvis Sings Hits From His Movies in the early 1970s!

One way to rate Elvis' movies is to watch how motivated he is. In 'Double Trouble', he is charming, engaged and fluid - a striking contrast to Paradise Hawaiian Style in which he often resembles a smiling waxwork - almost as if he's willing the film to be better than it is. 'Double Trouble' has too much going on for its own good, some of the comedy (especially the slapstick) badly misfires, and the songs vary in quality, but it remains one of his more intriguing formula movies - something of a miracle given that director Norman Taurog, as revealed in Peter Rifkind's book 'Easy Riders', was blind in one eye at this point.

When I watched 'Double Trouble' a few times more before writing this, I found it significantly more irritating and much more entertaining than I had remembered. Why not see what you think?

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